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  • School Board members face picketers, pranks

    'Passionate' outcry arrives at their doorsteps as teachers' strike continues
  • Medford School Board members say they are receiving home visits from picketers, a flood of calls and emails and even pranks as a teachers' strike continues into its 13th day.
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  • Medford School Board members say they are receiving home visits from picketers, a flood of calls and emails and even pranks as a teachers' strike continues into its 13th day.
    Board member Sally Killen said about 18 union members picketed on the sidewalk in front of her house twice in one day last week.
    "My neighbors weren't too happy about that," she said. "They weren't thrilled."
    Killen said she baked her neighbors cookies to help ease their frustrations with the picketing, and would have given some to the teachers, too, if they hadn't left by the time she was done baking.
    "They were very civil. They were just fine exercising their freedom of speech from the sidewalk," said Killen.
    She said other board members also have seen picketers in front of their homes. Someone left a pile of feces on the doorstep of board member Kim Wallan and outside the business of Chairman Jeff Thomas.
    Killen said those gestures were less than respectful, though she couldn't necessarily peg the pranks on teachers.
    "I don't know that it's all teachers," she said.
    Wallan said in the last week her house, which is on a busy road and across the street from a park, has been egged and toilet-papered.
    She said she had picketers one day early last week, but they haven't returned since.
    "I think it is kind of to be expected," she said. "It didn't surprise me."
    One night, Wallan said, her home phone received an endless stream of calls, even though she was out of the house at a mediation session.
    "It did get so bad, that I unplugged the land line, and I don't think we've plugged it back in," said Wallan. "Since the teachers made a YouTube video with board members' pictures and numbers, the phone calls have increased a bit."
    Caller ID revealed that about half of the calls were from phone numbers outside the Medford area, she said.
    Wallan said she hasn't corresponded much with teachers since the strike began, but has read many emails that evoke the same topics she heard during public board meetings before the strike.
    "They say to be respectful, and keep your promises, it's all kind of vague," she said.
    Killen said she's received a few emails through her personal account and plenty through her district address, and said most of the correspondence has been "passionate."
    Board member Tricia Prendergast said at the beginning of the strike she was getting about 50 emails and calls combined each day, but the pace has now slowed to about 20 per day.
    Prendergast said she hasn't received any picketers at home, but thinks it could be because she lives on a small street with only a few houses.
    "They wouldn't get much visibility," she said.
    Prendergast said she feels that home visits from picketers are a bit excessive, and believes her neighbors would have been upset had the union members come to her house.
    "It feels a little like an invasion of (the board members') privacy," she said. "It's very disappointing to see some teachers be so rude, but then, others have been very polite."
    Picketers were outside board member Ron Andersen's house one day last week, but Andersen said he used the opportunity to communicate with teachers.
    "Actually it was a very good experience," he said.
    Andersen said his wife made the teachers hot chocolate while he talked with them.
    "It's not an 'us' versus 'them' situation. They're just as frustrated as we are," he said.
    He said he's received lots of calls and emails but doesn't find those bothersome, except for a call that came in at 2:30 a.m. one night.
    "Sometimes they're so angry and they don't say who they are," he said.
    Andersen said some people call anonymously, but others who give their names are usually rational and respectful.
    "When you can talk to people rationally, it's easier to realize all of the perspectives," he said.
    The board members interviewed said they wished more of the teachers were up to speed on the specifics of the negotiations, and noticed that many teachers aren't accurately informed about the latest contract proposals.
    "I'm not entirely certain the teachers are well informed about some of the issues out there right now," Andersen said.
    "There's a lot of confusion," said Wallan.
    Prendergast said despite some difficult phone calls from teachers and community members, she believes people are starting to read the contract proposals and see the numbers, siding with the district's proposals.
    "The board members are good people trying to do the right thing," she said. "And people are really encouraging us to stay strong."
    Wallan agreed. "Believe it or not, we get a lot of support. People are telling us to stay the course."
    Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.
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